The recovery shows the “resolve of the Florida industry and the Florida grower,” said Bob Norberg, director of economic and market research for the Department of Citrus.
Other types of specialty citrus, including temple oranges, tangelos and tangerines, was expected to total 8.3 million boxes this year, up 25 percent from last season.
The total citrus yield in Florida was expected to be 222.3 million boxes, up 31 percent from a year ago.
After the storm
Now for the bad news.
As of press time, damage estimates from Hurricane Wilma were still being calculated.
The two hardest-hit citrus counties — Hendry and Collier — have about 130,000 acres of citrus groves. According to Florida Citrus Mutual, preliminary reports indicate that in some areas, up to 15 percent of the fruit crop has been blown off trees and some trees are leaning over or uprooted from the severe winds.
“It is difficult for us to adequately gauge the crop loss at this time due to downed communications lines in that area,” LaVigne said.
In addition to crop and tree damage, growers are concerned that Hurricane Wilma could have increased the spread of citrus canker, which is moved by wind-driven rain. State officials have been battling citrus canker since 1995 and were close to eradicating the disease until the hurricanes of 2004 increased its spread.
“In the past year alone, the state has or is scheduled to remove nearly 70,000 acres of citrus groves due to the spread of citrus canker after last year’s storms,” LaVigne said.
In a letter to Gov. Jeb Bush detailing the destruction, Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson said he had never witnessed such extensive devastation to the state’s agriculture sectors as that caused by Hurricane Wilma.
“At least 40 percent of our citrus crop in the impacted area is also on the ground,” Bronson said. “It may be months before we know how badly trees were damaged or how extensively the dreaded citrus canker disease was spread by the storm’s wind and rain.”
For up-to-date citrus information regarding Hurricane Wilma, call Florida Citrus Mutual at (863) 682-1111 or visit www.flcitrusmutual.com.